Holy Elder Sampson the Confessor
On August 24th (the 11th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the holy elder Sampson the Confessor.
On July 10, 1898 a son was born into the family of Count Esper Alexander Sievers in St. Petersburg. The boy was named Edward. The child was reared in the Anglican faith. Esper Sievers was a great friend of Emperor Nicholas II, and the Tsar was a frequent guest in the Count’s home. Here, in a cordial family atmosphere, the Emperor was able to relax, frequently holding little Edward on his knees. Edward Sievers graduated from high school with honors. He knew English, German, French, Greek, Latin, and ancient Hebrew. In his student years he finally resolved for himself the issue of which religion was the true one: this insight came to him unexpectedly, during a moleben in the chapel of the Saviour Not-made-by-hands. However, he greatly feared to cause anguish to his mother, and for this reason he converted to Orthodoxy secretly. His baptismal name was Sergey.
During the summer of 1917 young Sievers went off to a small monastery in the Russian north and became tonsured as monk, receiving the name of Alexander. His obedience in the monastery was to preach to the brothers. The young monk gave such deep and inspired sermons that many people forecast the destiny of an elder for him. However, he was first due to undergo many spiritual labors. In 1919 a group of armed Bolsheviks came to the monastery and seized the elder because he resembled a member of the Royal Family. The elder was held in prison for 22 days among criminals and bandits, and afterwards he was taken out to be shot. The elder went fearlessly, placing all his hopes in the Lord. He remained alive after the execution, but his hand was severely injured. In 1921 he entered the brotherhood of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and in 1922 he was tonsured into the small schema with the name of Simeon. In that same year Patriarch Tikhon ordained him a hierodeacon, while three years later he became a hieromonk and received the obedience of church treasurer, being in possession of all the keys to the monastery supply rooms.
Soon, however, the elder was subjected to another arrest. Three hours before the arrest, St. Seraphim of Sarov appeared to the elder in a dream: “I remember seeing St. Seraphim of Sarov. He came in to see me while I was sleeping, leaned over me, and slowly read this prayer – “The All-Merciful One,” and I felt his tears on my forehead. In the morning I arose and wrote down the prayer. Three hours later I was arrested. The “All-Merciful One” accompanied me through 18 years of camps and all the rest.”
Here is this prayer:
“O All-merciful Mistress, Most-holy Sovereign, All-holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, my indubitable and sole hope: do not shun me, do not reject me, do not abandon me, do not leave me; intercede, appeal, hearken; yea, Mistress, help and forgive, forgive, Most-holy One!”
The investigators demanded that the elder give them the keys to the supply rooms, but the confessor refused. Consequently he was placed into a “tram.” The “tram” was a horrible invention of Bolshevik terror. A great multitude of prisoners were thrown into a cell, so that they stood closely pressed against each other without any possibility of movement. The cell was locked up for three weeks. The prisoners defecated on the spot. The corpses remained standing among the living… The elder suffered through this and remained alive. He still did not give up the keys to the supply rooms.
His next trial was the Solovki Island. The elder stayed on Solovki from 1928 to 1934. The tortures and executions on Solovki were the cruelest and most refined. If two thousand years ago Christians in the Roman Coliseum were thrown to the lions to be devoured, on Solovki the prisoners were herded into cellars and exposed to… hungry rats. The rats literally ate people alive; only the bones remained. But the elder had the “All-Merciful One” with him. He stood there, hearing the cries of the other unfortunates who were dying amid incredible suffering, but the rats simply ran over his feet. Not a single creature touched him…
The years spent in the prisons and camps, which led others into despair, only served to inspire the elder to spiritual exploits. He heard confessions, gave comfort, prayed, and at the same worked on textbooks and dictionaries for his own edification. It was only after the war that a decree came out, granting amnesty to the clergy. Those who survived were freed. The elder was assigned to serve in a parish in the Cossack village of Kogulta, not far from Stavropol. Soon the people went to Kogulta in droves. The elder would reminisce: “Those were such incredible times: I would begin the services on Passion Wednesday and, without leaving the church, would finish on the day of Pascha at 11:00 in the morning… People would come day and night. Day and night people came to repent, day and night there were services. If the service ended, I would continue hearing confessions. There were 13,000 communicants from Stavropol alone. Great was the triumph of Orthodoxy! The local authorities became worried.”
Elder Sampson the Confessor
Elder Sampson the Confessor
One time a group of bandits came to the elder’s home. The doors and windows were closed, but they forced their way in through the straw roof, tied the elder up and began to demand money from him. They placed a bag over his head, stuffed a wad of cotton into his mouth, and began to torture him by burning his feet with candles. They found no money of course… And once more miraculously the elder remained alive.
Afterwards the elder was sent to the Pskov-Pechora monastery. Crowds of believers came to see the clairvoyant elder, but the times were most unpropitious for eldership: those were the years of Khrushchev’s persecution of the Church. The elder was too prominent a figure, and too many young people gathered around him. The elder was subjected to close surveillance, but nothing was found for which he could be accused of anti-Soviet activity. When the local newspapers printed a few calumnies about the Pechora monk, the monastic authorities became worried. The elder was banned from serving for one year, he was deprived of the right to wear his monastic garments, and he was sent to guard the apple orchards.
In the elder’s own words, he did not experience such anguish even in the prisons and camps. And a new misfortune occurred in 1963. Civilian authorities instituted criminal proceedings against the elder. This could have led to the closing down of the Pskov-Pechora monastery, and so the monastic authorities quickly set up their own hearing. At this hearing the elder was deprived of monkhood! That was the most horrible punishment possible for him – a monk-confessor with nearly half-a-century of experience. The civilian court hearing was brief: the accusation fell through, and the Soviet court vindicated him. The elder then went to Moscow, where the Patriarchate gave him back his monastic rank and the right to serve. He remained in Moscow, and in 1967 he was tonsured into the great schema with the name of Sampson. The labor of eldership began.
Elder Sampson was the spiritual father of a multitude of monks, hierarchs, and laymen. People from all over Russia came to see him. Everyone came to him for advice and healing. In 1979 he was diagnosed with cancer. The confessor’s last testament, bequeathed to all his disciples, was: “Do no malice to anyone.” The elder took communion before his death, and on August 24, 1979 Sampson the Long-Suffering, the great confessor of Christ, reposed with the righteous. At the present time many miraculous cures take place at the elder’s grave. The elder’s prayers cure fatal illnesses, and he is a particular intercessor for children, for getting jobs, finding homes, and many other worldly needs.